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22nd December
posted by amber

Verna and the Christmas Tree

Verna hadn’t set out to kill anyone that day. All she wanted was to find the perfect Christmas tree.

She’d found the perfect apartment three years ago, in a grand old building downtown, with four bathrooms, bay windows, parquet floors and fourteen foot ceilings. And for the last two holidays, Jeffrey brought home a tiny little tree, less than seven feet tall, a tree for a much lesser residence.

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, so Verna is picking out the tree this year. She told Jeffrey as he was going out the door this morning, “When you get home from work, the perfect tree will be here.”

And all he said was, “Fine, dear.”

As she was finishing her coffee and before she’d put on her hat and coat, she called down for the doorman to have her car ready at the front door. The man was quite inefficient; he never did anything in a prompt manner. Sure enough, the car wasn’t there when she arrived in the lobby and she had to wait five minutes while he went to get it. She advised him that she’d be coming back in an hour or so with a large Christmas tree that he’d be expected to assist her with.

Fortunately, the business of acquiring the tree was accomplished easily. At the lot which one of her friends had recommended, there were excellent firs. When she specified that the tree must be over twelve feet in height “because we have fourteen foot ceilings,” the attendant guided her to a corner and pointed to one tree.

“That’s the biggest tree we have,” he drawled.

“How tall is it?”

He looked at it, stepped nearer and looked some more. “Oh, between twelve and thirteen feet.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. That one there is eleven feet and this one’s a lot taller than it is.”

Verna walked over to the tree and attempted to judge its size. Although it was trussed up and leaning against a wall, it did seem very large. Already she could see it in her dining room, framed in the bay window and decorated with all the new ornaments she’d bought. “I’ll take it.”

The young man tied the tree to the roof of her car with such a lackadaisical air that she worried all the way home, seeing the tree’s vast crown sweeping behind her, red flag waving merrily, but it stayed firm. Of course, the doorman was nowhere to be found. She had to call three times before he answered his cell phone, and then wait another fifteen minutes before he deigned to show his face in the lobby.

He’d been off helping the doorman in the neighbouring building, and now the favour was to be returned, as it took two of them to manhandle the tree into the service elevator and up to her apartment. They attached the tree to the stand, stood it up, and …

it was too short.

A good three feet too short.

So they removed the tree stand and took the tree into the elevator and back down to the lobby.

When Verna arrived at the lobby, she expected to find her car out front with the tree once again tied to the roof. She did find her car, and the tree atop it, but the two doormen were not there and the tree wasn’t secured. She phoned her doorman and was told he’d had to go help someone with a plumbing emergency, but that he’d return “as quickly as I can.”

She waited and waited, but he didn’t come back and she was starting to worry that she wouldn’t have enough time to return this disappointing tree and then find the perfect tree. Tying the tree down hadn’t looked that hard, so she did it herself, carefully attaching the red flag.

She felt like a one-woman parade as she sailed down the street, driving carefully and slowly. Some people waved, but one car zoomed up behind her at top speed, braking and honking and then veering around her, the three men inside glaring at her as they passed. So rude! She was determined to get their license number, so she drove a little faster as she tried to make it out. She didn’t need to write it down. She had an excellent memory.

PON 397… The last digit was smudged, but she almost had it when a sudden blare of sirens announced the precipitous arrival of a police car from an alley, directly into the path of the rude men’s car.

They hit their brakes, and she had to do the same, since she’d allowed herself to get too near.

A dark shadow zoomed over her head and flew into the back of the rude men’s car. Her tree, too small to be perfect, but large enough to pierce the back window and crush the head of the man sitting there and explode a bag of money, hundred dollar bills falling into the street like snow.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

This story owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Atwood, as it was inspired by the first two lines of her story in this week’s New Yorker.

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